I know I’ve joked about compiling a list of “Bible Verses I Wish I’d Seen While Christian,” and today we’re going to do it because the concept is tickling me pink for some reason today.
It’s a solid fact that a great many non-believers know the Bible better than TRUE CHRISTIANS™ themselves do. Spin that however they like, the religion’s leaders have to contend with the simple fact that though almost every single Christian alive believes that the Bible is the inspired word of a real live god and that it is that god’s instructions and desires for humanity, they don’t think it’s interesting enough to read.
Some of the stuff I’m going to list here is stuff I didn’t have any idea existed, and some of it’s stuff I vaguely knew about but didn’t read in-depth for myself. Nor do I present any of these myths and legends as anything I think literally happened now. I also don’t include the really awful commandments around rape, torture, slavery, and whatnot because I knew about those–and yes, they bothered me, but I had more than enough talking-points to rationalize them as being compatible with a benevolent, loving god. Oh, and be aware that Christian apologists have hand-waving ad hoc rationalizations for every one of these, from their favorite trump card context to attempts to weave modern sensibilities into these tales of wonder and bizarreness. When someone’s really invested in making their holy book look divine and perfect, the level of intricacy these rationalizations achieve is truly something to behold.
But in no particular order, here is the list:
* Jesus, the trickster godling. (Luke 24)
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ death was a total shock to his disciples. After he died, some of them lit out for a nearby village called Emmaus; we aren’t told why, but it sounds like it was home to at least one of them. And Jesus showed up on the road to walk with them. Now, he didn’t actually tell his beloved followers who he was. He just let them rabbit on and on about his death and how upset they were. He wasn’t even planning to stay in Emmaus that night except that they asked him to stay for dinner–as hospitable folks do and should–and it wasn’t until the dinner that the disciples realized who he had to be. He’d been asking them about his own death all day long and remonstrating with them for their lack of faith, and he hadn’t whispered a word to comfort them or assuage their deep grief. I don’t know about you, but if a dear friend of mine had died and hung out with me all day long without telling me that s/he hadn’t really died, I’d be torqued–even hurt. When I saw this story, I couldn’t help but think of how mean it was that he didn’t comfort his followers and dry their tears, but instead let them believe he was gone. Had I seen these verses as a Christian and understood what they were saying, I know that would have been problematic for me.
Also, this story makes Jesus sound like a teenager on MySpace who pretends to die just to get extra attention and see all the upset messages that follow.
* The Great Jewish Zombie Uprising. (Matthew 27)
This one I know for sure I didn’t see until after deconverting. In it, after the Crucifixion, at the moment Jesus is supposed to have died, Jerusalem goes through a shuddering series of disasters that would have fit well in any Roland Emmerich movie. Rocks split and heave out of the ground, the curtain of the temple rips in two, and in the cemetery, tombs split open and dead Jews get up and wander around Jerusalem chatting with people. It’s funny that as a Christian, I knew about the curtain tearing, but I totally didn’t notice the last part at all.
This story also presents some obvious challenges to the literalist crowd. Stones and graves cracking open, the main temple facing an obviously unnatural desecration, and a bunch of dead Jews wandering all zombie-like around one of the biggest cities in the area, one that moreover had a huge Roman presence with literate and educated people all over the damned place, and yet I’m expected to believe that this happened while not a single one of those literate people thought to mention a single one of these huge events in any letters or documents of the time? Yeah. That raises a few questions for me.
* Are you kidding? God LOVES abortion! (Numbers 5)
In this story, “God” commands Israelites to force abortions on wives suspected of infidelity. The women are force-fed a “bitter potion” whose ingredients sound supremely sketchy. If the woman cheated on her husband and she’s pregnant by another man, then the potion will make her miscarry. If she doesn’t miscarry, then obviously she was innocent.
To be fair, what “God” loves seems more to be controlling women’s bodies and forcing women to abide by their menfolks’ decisions about whether and when and how their bodies will reproduce. Abortion is just the ultimate means to that end–just as it is today. Trying to rob women of their own sovereignty about reproduction works both ways. The problem here isn’t abortion; it’s that the woman in question was forced to undergo this ritual and then commanded to agree to her own victimization (note that grotesque bit at the end where she has to say “Amen, so be it”). And to all the Christians who may right now be thinking of all the rationalizations that toxic Christian leaders undoubtedly have prepared to explain away this grisly, repulsive little ritual, let’s keep in mind that this god could easily have told his people to quit treating women as property and stop seeing sex as a defiling act.
* Just how old did you think that girl was? (Numbers 31)
In this myth, the Jewish soldiers fall upon the hapless wretches of Midian and murder every single man, boy, and older woman there. They destroy the Midianites’ cities and fields and steal everything that isn’t nailed down. But Moses commands them to keep the virgin girls for themselves. Now, most folks learn in Sunday School that marriage happened at a much earlier age than it does today in Biblical days. How old do you suppose a virgin girl would be in Midianite culture before she got married, and how often do you suppose an of-age girl remained unmarried in that culture? And how exactly would the Israelites have been testing these girls to see if they were really virgins? I’m sure it was a polite conversation and nothing more invasive than that. I’ve heard some Bible scholars admit that these Midianite girls would have been very young, probably a lot younger than we’d consider acceptable today.
Come to think of it, there’s not a single verse in the Bible advising men not to fuck little girls. There are rules about everything under the sun in the Bible and as a fundamentalist I believed that every single life situation was covered there, but there was not a word breathed in it that I know of (or knew of then) that covered the important question of “how old people should be in order to get married.” (–which would mean in essence “having approved sex.”) It’s hard not to imagine that the lack of guidance in this area is in big part why so many fundamentalists have trouble with that question; I know that in super-fundie circles the girls are encouraged to marry way too young, and sometimes a pastor will get caught dragging underaged girls across state lines in order to take advantage of another state’s lower age of consent. So yeah, there’s a lot about this particular myth that really bothers me now, and I would have been hugely bothered by it then.
What a just, merciful, fair, and loving god. Any man who’s been emasculated or has been seriously hurt in the junk is not allowed to enter the congregation with everybody else. This would have bugged me because I knew even as a Christian that life back then could be really violent, and such injuries do happen. Even today, accidents can cost men their fishing tackle–but in the OT’s view, that’s enough to stop them from even going to church. It seems distinctly unfair that a physical blemish of some kind was enough to make a Jewish man unclean in his god’s eyes. Then again, given the Old Testament’s obsession with genitals in general, maybe I wouldn’t have been that surprised. It’s not like Christians today tend to be much different.
* The really weird, pagan-sounding shit. (2 Kings)
There’s some downright oddball stuff to be found in 2 Kings all the way around, but two incidents spring out at me now as defining that weirdness. (YMMV, of course.) In 2 Kings 6:1-7, there’s this weird-ass little story about how the prophet helped a guy recover his iron axe head by throwing a stick into the water where it’d sunk to make it float by magic. I’m sure the myth has some great significance (and I’ve seen some of these explanations, but they raise more questions than they answer), but it underscores for me how genuinely pagan that “old time religion” really was. If I were from a religious tradition that didn’t consider the Bible not only inerrant but prescriptive, things might have been different, but the axe-head story makes the early Hebrew religion sound downright magical in nature.
The other story is in 2 Kings 13-21 (linked at the beginning of this section) and involves a guy who came back to life when his corpse touched the bones of the long-dead prophet. It’s hard to think of a single other thing about the Old Testament that covers how strangely non-Christian this entire religion sounds. And I get that it’s not supposed to sound Christian; it’s just hard to even imagine how a religion like modern Christianity could come from one that actually has myths buried in its source documents about this kind of miracle. The idea that someone could be so magical and holy that even their bones could resurrect dead people is just so bizarre to me. I suppose nowadays Christians continue that fine legacy by treating faith healers like they were magical bones.
This isn’t the only place that the strange ancient paganism involved in early Judaism rears its head. In Genesis 30, Jacob throws peeled branches near the watering hole of some herd animals, who see the peeled branches while they mate and produce speckled, spotted, and striped young. That’s an interesting view of animal husbandry, but it certainly doesn’t sound much like how genetics really works. Of course, the Bible was written by superstitious herdsmen many thousands of years before we knew about genetics, but stories like that only highlight just how ignorant people were.
* Prophecy by fleece. (Judges 6)
In another weird pagan moment, Gideon tells the Hebrew god that he’ll put a sheep’s fleece out next to him while he sleeps, and if it’s wet in the morning while the ground is totally dry, then he’ll know that this god is trustworthy. And in the morning, lo and behold, the fleece is soaking wet! MIRACLE! Yeah. It’s not like Christians don’t do this exact sort of thing constantly. Seeking signs and portents exactly like this myth describes are rife in the culture and I did it myself all the time. But it would have seriously jarred me to see my god’s coyness spelled out like that, because my church (as most do) taught that testing “God” that way was bad. Sometimes I heard this myth referred to as “putting out a fleece,” but I didn’t really read about it till much later after I’d deconverted. When I did, it shocked me that something so picayune and small was taken as such a big portent by Gideon. What if he’d accidentally spilled water on the fleece at night or someone else did? What if there was some perfectly natural explanation for its wetness? It seemed weird that he hinged so much on something that didn’t seem that remarkable to me.
Strange how this god relies on stupid shit like that instead of being more forthright with his followers, isn’t it? I remember very clearly thinking things like if the next person who walks by smiles at me then obviously I have to do such-and-such thing or if it rains tomorrow then obviously “God” means for me to stay home from work or the like. But I never once wondered why I relied on such signs or wondered why this god couldn’t communicate clearly.
* Wait, they were how big? (Ezekiel 23)
You don’t often get that sense of lewd earthiness from the Bible, except maybe from the veiled language in the Song of Solomon, but this verse puts it right out there:
19 “Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt. 20 “She lusted after their paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is like the issue of horses. 21 “Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom because of the breasts of your youth.
That’s not the only place where Egyptian men are specifically mentioned as having big cocks, either. The whole story kind of reminds me of a neckbeard Nice Guy™ frothing at the mouth over the idea of sexually-free women having sex with men who aren’t them. There’s so much hate bound up in these verses about women who know what they like sexually and who, even worse, go for certain men who had a little extra something that Jewish men at the time didn’t. Were the Israelites feeling a little, uh, inadequate back then? You just wish you had a time machine to go back and tell them “Don’t worry, it’s not the size of the wave but the motion of the ocean.” (I have no idea what the current folklore is; I know there’s been a lot of intermarriage and moving around since the OT days so I make no judgment at all about the state of Jewish men’s equipment as it is now.)
This verse wouldn’t have bugged me, but it would have seemed weird that stories comparing the nation of Israel to a size queen got allowed into canon, but somehow this god totally forgot to mention that women should be a certain age before they have sex.
So what are your favorite weird, troubling verses–the ones that never seem to make it into these kinds of lists?